Horizon and Allegiant sit on the tarmac at BLI. Photo from the Port of Bellingham.
It is always fun when two airlines are able to duke it out at a smaller airport. Alaska Airlines and Allegiant have both been flying out of Bellingham International Airport (BLI) [located just south of the US/Canada border and about an hour and a half north of Seattle, WA] and the competition is about to get… well… more interesting.
BLI has been growing leaps and bounds over the past few years. From being a small regional airline to one that is handling more and more flights. In 2004, the airport saw almost 80,000 passengers and in 2011 that number rose to over 500,000.
Bellingham’s airport is pulling passengers from northern Washington and about 62% of their passengers are from Canada. It seems that both Allegiant and Alaska feel there is more demand, flying passengers to Hawaii.
Last week, Alaska put out a press release, announcing that they would start seasonal service between Bellingham and Maui (OGG) starting in November. This is interesting, since Allegiant previously announced starting non-stop service from BLI to OGG in November as well.
Although both airlines might not be too happy with the added competition, the airport likes providing more options to their passengers.
“The Port is very excited about the new destinations being offered by Alaska Air (Maui), Horizon Air (Portland, OR), Frontier Airlines (Denver, CO) and Allegiant Air (Honolulu and Maui),” Daniel J. Zenk, Director of Aviation at Bellingham International Airport explained to AirlineReporter.com. “Each new destination offers more flexibility and convenience at a low cost to our customers. The Port of Bellingham is proud of our partnership with the airlines and their ability to provide this service.”
Neither airline is willing to call out the other by name, but it is obvious that Alaska knows who they will be competing with. From their press release:
Alaska Airlines’ unique service offers many benefits for customers including:
- Free carry-on bags
- Free advance seat selection
- First class seating
- Complimentary inflight water, soft drinks, coffee and tea
BLI recently opened a new terminal to help handle the increase of service. Photo from the Port of Bellingham.
See, Allegiant charges for carry-on bags, advance seat selection and drinks — they also only offer economy class seating. Even though Allegiant charges for these, the base-price for their flights will also most likely be cheaper and even after you add all the bells and whistles, they might still end up having a cost savings over Alaska.
Obviously, there is much more to choosing an airline than just cost and it will be interesting if cost or service will win out. Heck, there might be enough demand for both to succeed.
Allegiant is used to taking on other airlines and things do not seem any different in Bellingham. “The Allegiant business model is based on low-cost and value that stimulates new demand. This approach has led to 37 consecutive profitable quarters and will continue to help us grow,” Jessica Wheeler, Allegiant’s Public Relations Manager explained via email. “Our service in Bellingham has been very successful, and we are confident that all of our routes out of Bellingham will continue to attract new leisure travelers to our destinations.”
Alaska Airlines will start flying from Bellingham to Maui on November 8th using a Boeing 737-800, leaving at 3:00pm on Mon, Tue, Thu and Saturday. The return flight will be leaving at 11:00am from Maui on Tue, Wed, Fri and Sun. The airline will run the service through to winter until April 14th.
Allegiant will start flying from BLI to OGG on November 14th using a Boeing 757-200. At this point, the airline has not announced an official schedule.
Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-800 about to leave Bellingham for warm Honolulu.
Bellingham is located about an hour and a half north of Seattle and about fourteen miles south of the Canadian border. Over the past few years Belingham International Airport (BLI) has been growing tremendously. Friday was an exciting day for the airport and Alaska Airlines. Even though Alaska and their sister carrier Horizon Air have been flying out of Bellingham to Las Vegas and Seattle for quite sometime now, Alaska has now started non-stop service to Honolulu (HNL). They will fly to Honolulu and back once per day using a Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Alaska started their first flight to Hawaii in 2007 and now has eighth west coast cities connecting to the islands of Hawaii.
“Alaska Airlines is proud to call the Pacific Northwest home. So we’re delighted to offer Bellingham its first-ever nonstop scheduled service to Hawaii,” said Joe Sprague, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of marketing. “Our new Honolulu flights will allow travelers from north of Seattle and the Lower Mainland to take advantage of our low fares, award-winning service and Mileage Plan earning opportunities via an easy-to-access, nearby airport.”
Flying to the state of Alaska has become huge for the airline. I was able to talk to Bob Derse, Regional Manager of Sales and Community Marketing in the Northwest and he explained when he started with Alaska about 30 years ago, 80% of seat miles were flown to and from the state of Alaska. Today there are only about 16% of the seat miles flown to Alaska and 15% being flown to Hawaii. Derse, the other local Alaska personnel and the airport’s personal were all very excited for this flight. Of course all of their excitement was nothing for the full plane load of passengers who were waiting to head to Hawaii. Well, actually it wasn’t a full plane. Due to weight and range issues, the flight will be flown with 10 empty seats. That is a win for passengers, since this means there will be quite a few empty middle seats, making the flight more comfortable.
This guy is loving the idea he is heading to Hawaii!
I asked Christina Aldanese of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau if Hawaiians thought it odd to fly on planes to the west coast of the United States on an airplane that has “Alaska” on the side. She explained that Hawaii and Alaska states have a sort of sisterhood with both not being a part of the continental United States and the last two to join the union. Many folks going to and coming from the islands truly appreciate the additional flights that Alaska has provided.
Since this was such a big (and fun) deal, Alaska wasn’t going to let this happen with out some special treats. Passengers were greeted by employees in Hawaiian garb and were given a special party bag, food and drink. After going through security, there were Hawaiian decorations and more food and drink at the gate. Before boarding, there was an Hawaiian blessing done with a gentlemen in Hawaiian garb chanting and splashing water from a bowl with what looked like braided seaweed. He started from the gate and went through the plane and back inside. It was quite entertaining to see. While he was doing this there was an Allegiant flight that was de-boarding and I don’t think I have seen so many looks of curiosity from passengers.
There were plenty of smiles coming from people as their boarded the aircraft, knowing in a few hours they would be in Hawaii. Although Alaska is the first airline to fly from Bellingham to Hawaii, they most likely will not be the last. Allegiant has announced they plan to commence flights out of Bellingham, but their ETOPS certification of their new Boeing 757’s have been delayed, causing the flights to be pushed to at least 2012. This will give Alaska time to market their new route and start to build a loyalty for passengers flying from northern Washington and southern British Columbia to Honolulu.
To help you celebrate, Alaska is offering special discounted tickets for quite sometime. You can fly to HNL from BLI for just $149 each way — hmm, maybe I can take advantage of that.
* My photos of the Alaska Airlines event
* Video from KOMO4 News
Allegiant MD-82 (N416NV) at Bellingham with a blue tail.
I recently had the opportunity to fly from Bellingham, WA to Las Vegas, NV on Allegiant Air (note: this was not a free ticket and I paid full fare). It was time for a little vacation, but vacation doesn’t mean I can’t review my flight.
On the blog, I have covered Allegiant quite a bit. I have looked at the possibility of them starting flights from Paine Field, talked about their Boeing 757’s and have explored their recent growth. However, I have never actually flown Allegiant and felt it was about time.
Although I haven’t flown them, I have had a small, odd crush on the airline. They have a very unique business model of flying older MD-80’s out of smaller airports and are geared towards the leisure traveler trying to get somewhere warm. They fly places that other low cost carriers don’t fly offering non-stop service to airports not usually served. They also seem to under cut the competition in fare price.
When booking my ticket I was looking at flights out of Seattle (SEA) and Bellingham (BLI – which is located about 1.5hours north of Seattle). Flying Allegiant out of BLI was $50.00 cheaper than anyone else — even after the fees I ended up paying. Add that parking at BLI is only $9/day vs $28/day at SEA and the 1.5hr drive north sounds like a good idea compared to the 30min drive south for me to SEA (ok, so when I have to drive it from 1am-2:30am when I got back, it didn’t seem so great at the time).
There is no hiding that Allegiant love their fees. If you are just flying with a carry-on. don’t care about where you sit and you don’t eat anything you can get to your destination for dirt cheap. Allegiant has become quite skilled at trying to sell you things during every step of the travel process from going onto their website to getting off the airplane.
Allegiant's new seats have the seat pocket located on the top of the seat.
This is not to say I blame them for this, I have always said I do not mind fees. If I am traveling light why should I have to pay for people who are not? When booking my ticket these were some of the “upgrades” I was offered. Some of these fees you do not see on every airline (note that the priority boarding fee is the same for each flight, but the other seat fees will differ depending on flight length):
* Priority boarding: $9.99 – allows you to get on the plane first making sure you have overhead room.
* Premium seat selection: $9.99 – you get an assigned seat near the front or at the exit rows.
* Standard seat assignment: $6.99 – gives you an assigned seat towards the back of the aircraft.
* Online checked bag fee: $39.98 – might be more than the industry average, but you want to pay it online, since it will cost you $70.00 per bag at the airport.
You can fly without having to pay any of these fees, but many will end up paying. Allegiant recently went to a new boarding process. First the people that pay the $9.99 for the priority boarding get to board. Then those who need a little extra time (not kids or family) that they need extra time getting seated get to board. Next, passengers with seat assignments get to find their seats. Then those who do not have seat assignments, but have kids that are under 7. Then it goes to open seating and people get to pick what is left as far as seats and overhead bin space. On the flight to LAS, there weren’t many who went with open seating, but it seemed most of the plane was open seating on the way home.
Normally I wouldn’t pay for an assigned seat, but on this trip I was flying with my girlfriend Amy and I wanted to make sure we sat together. I didn’t get the premium seats and even after the $32.00 seating fees (for both of us there and back) our tickets were still $50.00 cheaper than the competition. Since Allegiant flies MD-80 aircraft, paying more to sit up front can be more useful since you are farther away from the jets in the rear of the plane.
Got a nice view of Mount Rainier heading south towards Vegas.
One annoying aspect of Allegiant’s fees is most are opt-out fees. It automatically signs you up for the $9.99 priority boarding and seat assignment charges and asks if you are really sure you want to opt-out. After I thought I opted out for everything and I was on the payment screen and I had “additional charges” adding up to around $60.00 that I didn’t know what they were. It took me a while to realize Allegiant already added two tickets for a hotel shuttle and for travel insurance. I could see people not realizing what is going on and paying for them, even if they didn’t want or need them. Even though it was a bit more work to get the tickets (it was almost game like and I think I won) I still ended up with super cheap tickets.
Although their aircraft are a bit older, the ones I flew on (N416NV & N419NV) were quite clean. The new Allegiant seats are a bit unique with not having a standard seat pocket. Instead of the seat pocket being down by the knees, it is up above the tray table and is much smaller. This allows them to put the seats closer together and cut down on turnaround time since there really isn’t room to put trash.
The new seats are also “pre-reclined,” which is fancy airline-speak for they do not recline. For me, this is a non-issue. I rarely recline my seat out of respect for the people behind me. Non-recling seats allow more seats to be put in, cuts down on maintenance costs, which allows more revenue and keeps your ticket cost cheaper. For some reason, so many people do not see this connection. There are many other airlines out there that might provide a bit more room, less fees and a reclining seat, but it will cost you more to fly them.
Once you are on board the plane, you have more fees to consider paying as well. Unlike most other airlines, there is no free food or drinks. Not even that small glass of Diet Coke or a miniature bag of peanuts. A 12oz soda will cost you $2 and snacks range from $2-$6. Of course you also have the choice of beer for $5 or mixed drinks for $7. Considering I paid $3 for a soda and $5 for a bagel with cream cheese at the airport before boarding, I should have waited.
Boarding on the tarmac at Bellingham allows one to get views like this, which you can't get on a jetway.
The flight attendants also sell tickets to events and shuttle tickets while on board (at least on my Vegas flight). My biggest regrets of my flight was not getting an Allegiant MD-80 model – which they also sell. They won’t advertise them, so you have to ask for it. I totally forgot on the flight to LAS and was sleeping the entire way back to BLI.
One reason I slept the entire flight back was it was so late. The plane was scheduled to leave LAS at 8:05pm, but we didn’t take off until about 10:30pm. De-icing and flight plan issues caused the delay. Add to that sitting in the plane for about 1.5hrs of that delay with a loud kid in front of us and a group of college kids behind us, it was not fun. At least they did allow us to use our electronic devices and the restroom during the wait. Although it was annoying, what can you do? There are delays in any form of transportation. How many times am I sitting in Seattle traffic and it takes me an hour to go just ten miles (a lot btw)? As always people seem to get angry at the airline for delays; like someone is sitting in a room somewhere making a plane late for fun. The pilots, flight attendants, ground crews, airport personnel, operations managers and everyone else waiting on the last flight of the day do not want the delay anymore than you. These sorts of things happen in a complex business like this and I always find it is best to roll with the punches (although Amy can attest I was getting grumpy at the time).
Allegiant has a smart model that works and they will continue to grow their route map. They own their planes, fly to smaller airports, concentrate on leisure travelers, provide complete travel options and have fees. It obviously is working for them since they have been able to grow rapidly over the past few years and I have a feeling it will continue to work for them. How have your experiences with Allegiant been?
During my time in Vegas, I was also able to take a visit of Allegiant’s head quarters and will be sharing that with you soon. Stay tuned.